Minnesota schools allowed to reopen for summer: Here’s what it means

People standing far apart from each other and people at tables.
Students kept social distance as they line up to pick up belongings at North High School gym in March. School buildings closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but they can reopen this summer and offer a hybrid of distance learning and in-person instruction.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Minnesota K-12 schools will be allowed to open their doors to students starting this summer. 

That means summer school, day camps, and district-based child care have the green light to open — so long as they meet public health guidelines and maintain physical distancing. And students enrolled in summer school will partake in a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning.

The new guidelines recommend school districts and charters offer in-person options starting in late June, but allow them to begin these sorts of programs as soon as the end of each district’s traditional school year.  

“By slowly turning the dial for school settings this summer, we can better serve Minnesota’s students and families, and provide more opportunities for the in-person learning and social interactions that are critical to learning,” Walz said in a statement Thursday after issuing an executive order on the matter. 

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Here’s what you need to know about school programming this summer: 

What does this new ‘hybrid’ model of learning look like? 

Some districts may decide to just continue distance learning — especially because it’s expensive to hire enough staff to provide for the physical distancing and sanitary precautions that state public health officials say is necessary. 

Districts that do decide to offer in-person learning options are required to put all their students on an alternating schedule, with some students maintaining social distancing in the school building, and other students learning remotely from home. 

Who’s allowed to participate in these in-person learning programs? 

Any student is allowed to participate in these programs, but state officials have asked districts to prioritize those students who have struggled the most with distance learning and are traditionally underserved. 

Districts are also being encouraged to continue child care programs for the children of essential workers. Guidelines say other children are also allowed to enroll in childcare programs but that districts should prioritize care for children of critical sector workers

What do state health officials say needs to be done to keep students in school programs safe? 

The Minnesota Department of Health has issued guidelines for social distancing in youth programs. Here are some of the measures they recommend: 

  • People must continue to stay 6 feet apart from each other

  • Student to staff ratios should be 6:1; maximum 9:1 

  • Activities should be held outside whenever possible 

  • Desks must be rearranged so that students are more spaced out and all face the same direction

  • Supplies should not be shared among students and staff members

  • Students and staff members should wear face masks (if students are able to reliably keep the masks on and take them off themselves)

  • There should be regular hand washing

  • Students and staff should be screened when they arrive for temperatures and other symptoms

  • Staff must regularly clean and sanitize buildings where students and staff are 

What do we know about how COVID-19 affects young people? 

It remains true that this virus is, on the whole, less severe for children than it is for adults. But there are also studies that seem to indicate COVID-19 is not as benign in kids as once thought. 

There are doctors in Europe and the United States who are reporting symptoms in children involving inflammation in the skin, blood vessels and heart. 

The Minnesota Department of Health is asking parents to be on the lookout for symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and that healthcare professionals report suspected cases. 

What about school-associated summer camps and child care? What about school sports? 

According to the new executive order, day camps that provide youth summer programming are allowed, but overnight camps are not. 

There’s no specific mention of team sports in the executive order. Outdoor tournaments, competitions, practices and sports that allow for social distancing and do not require groups of larger than 10 are permitted. 

But Walz told reporters that state officials are continuing to work with youth sports groups to see if there are ways to allow those activities while also preventing the spread of the coronavirus. 

“Some of them have put together some really great plans,” he said Thursday. For example, he said, some of those plans “showed us how they might be able to get youth tennis camp going.”

Walz said the goal is “to get some real guidance on what’s possible and what’s not” by June 1. 

Some cities have already taken action. The city of Duluth, for example, has banned competitive team sports in city parks through the end of June, as well as pickup games of contact sports like basketball or soccer. 

Are schools still supposed to feed kids? 

State officials have told schools to continue feeding students who are participating in summer learning programs. 

Officials are also giving guidance to districts on what programs are available to help them continue feeding kids. And they’re telling districts that aren’t extending meal programs into the summer to coordinate with other organizations such as food shelves to provide families with information and resources on where they might be able to get food. 

Why is it now OK to allow teachers and kids to do in-person learning? 

Nothing about the virus or its ability to spread has changed. But when Walz earlier this week announced he was lifting the stay-at-home orders, he said Minnesota was now more prepared to handle an increase in cases. 

When outlining the rationale for the summer guidelines, the state Department of Education wrote that the hybrid model of in-person and distance learning was “a plausible option for the summer and could serve as a pilot for full implementation in the fall, if needed.” 

Do we know yet what school will look like in September? 

State officials have not yet said what learning will look like this fall. However, the governor has told the state education department to begin planning for the possibility of having to combine in-school and distance learning models in the fall, should the pandemic require such measures. Minnesota may attempt to continue a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning in the 2020-2021 school year.